Sometimes things just don’t shake out the way you expect them to. For example, if you would have asked me in January what the chances were of me not reviewing the new Metro Exodus this year, the answer would have been no chance. I have been a huge Metro fan ever since it was launched and have championed the series whenever possible. I would still invite you to read my none spoiler review of Metro 2033 and Last Light; as current events should not diminish their excellence. However, little did we know that the game's publisher was on the cusp of what I can only describe as a monumentally idiotic and short-sighted decision: to make an exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store. So I guess it’s time to set out what I think of this new kid on the PC gaming block.
I have been saying, for years now, that Valve needed a kick up the arse. This gaming behemoth seems to have lost all of their passion for PC gaming and these days only occasionally stirs from its slumber. Remember the electrifying days of Half-Life 2? When Valve was showing off the Source Engine and its revolutionary material based physics. When Steam was a beacon in a gaming space that was mostly fragmented. Love them or hate them, Valve created a single banner under which PC gamers could purchase their games and this helped PC gaming escape the dusty corner of a thousand bricks and mortar game shops. Today Valve seems content to rake in hundreds of millions while putting in the bare minimum amount of effort. The Steam store has become an endless sea of shovel-ware and asset flips; considering how I regarded Valve ten years ago, this is a sad state of affairs. So who can blame some young upstart jumping into the fold and putting their thing down.
When the Epic store first appeared it was received well, with free monthly games, a good developer revenue split and some welcome competition for Steam. Unfortunately instead of using their almost endless resources to build a better store and earn customers with choice and value: Epic went for the cheap and dirty approach. By paying the developers and publishers for the exclusivity of prominent games, they are effectively strong-arming customers onto the Epic store. I want you to think about that for a second; Epic is paying to take away your choice and this now shows exactly how Epic (and Tim Sweeney) wish to do business. We do see companies like EA and Ubisoft putting games on their own platform, but that is because they have had a hand in creating the scattering of games that occupy their digital shelves. I recently asked Tim Sweeney on Twitter what it would take for them to cease their current strategy of exclusives and his answer was interesting. Tim stated that if Valve met them with an 88% revenue split they would immediately withdraw from signing exclusivity deals and even sell games on Steam. Needless to say, this conversation has gained a lot of attention with PC gamers and the associated press. I do think Tim is playing a dangerous game here which could backfire. If nothing else the negative response to his Tweets will leave nobody at Epic under any illusions what PC gamers think of the Epic Store and their aggressive strategy for expansion.
Epic has not only brought exclusivity into a platform where there was virtually none, but they have also sowed division and conflict in their wake. Developers have found themselves under fire from their own fans because of going with Epic and in cases like Phoenix Point you can see why. Funding a project on the back of money from gamers and then switching to an Epic exclusive at the last minute was a perfidious thing to do. Yet, if we are all really honest, you can understand the temptation for a small developer that is barely able to pay the bills. Some have argued that they can’t see the problem with adding another launcher to their desktop but this statement shows that so many people just don’t understand the core problem with what Epic is doing. Yes, the Epic Store right now is lacking in many key features, but that doesn’t actually bother me all that much. However, I do worry about Epic being able to keep my data safe because to date they have done a pitiful job of keeping customer information secure. Only this week I had to spend hours changing all my passwords and calling the bank because someone has managed to successfully change the password on my Epic account. Regardless of issues around security and worries of customer data being sold, I see the real problem being in the long game.
If Epic makes their current strategy a success, you can bet your back teeth that other large companies will be watching. What happens if next month Apple, Amazon or any mega-corporation (not even necessarily a gaming company) with plenty of poke decides to start locking down third-party games into their own PC launcher? We’ve already seen how quickly developers are willing to forgo their fans and reputation, for a large cash injection and larger profits. Obsidian Entertainment had announced their new game The Outer Worlds on the back of the failure of Fallout 76 and had a guaranteed hit on their hands: then in one move, they undid all that goodwill by selling out to Epic. The PC gaming platform could once again become a fragmented patchwork quilt which would ultimately damage it. You might not think that sounds all that catastrophic but consider this. As Google is currently exploring, at some point in the not too distant future gaming sites will start to push Netflix style subscription models; EA has already gotten the ball rolling on this one. One monthly payment for access to all your games: except that it won’t be will it. Let’s say by the time this change occurs and one company really starts to push this method of games access, will the other nine will just shake hands and walk away? Of course not and very quickly we could end up paying several monthly subscriptions, just to play the games we could have at one time just downloaded and played. You might think this is a long way off, but this year in a scramble to get their fingers into the PC gaming space, Epic has given us a big push in that direction.
It has been rumoured that Red Dead Redemption 2 might be a permanent Epic exclusive (although the date mentioned in the rumour has passed) and this news has had me evaluating my position on the issue. My initial reaction was to boycott the Epic store entirely, but I’ve been surprised how many people have reached out with an argument against this move. In short, most people think I should still cover the games on the Epic store, even if I do raise my objections in those reviews. I’m torn on this issue but I will say one thing for certain, Epic is no friend of PC gamers. If a game is a timed exclusive then I will endeavour to wait the six or twelve months, instead reviewing it when it does finally land on Steam or any other store that doesn’t employ anti-consumer practices. Sure, I miss the week one hype for that game, but Rigged for Epic really isn’t about fighting for clicks and is all about celebrating PC gaming. If however, we see a massive game like Red Dead Redemption 2 go to the Epic store permanently, only then will I review a game that is on the Epic Store. I will also say this, the lack of fight Valve are putting up is not inspiring and the more they just sit in their ivory tower watching Epic take over PC gaming, the fewer gamers will support them. Valve, you need to wake up and meet Epic head on.
This February was unusually busy, due in part to developers and publishers scrabbling to avoid the shadow of Red Dead Redemption 2. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the developers of Sunless Skies at EGX Birmingham last year and after seeing what the game was about I knew I had to cover it. As I set out in my review, I love how some games can spark an interest in other creative works. Sunless Skies is a narrative driven title from Failbetter Games, set in a fictional world where you must navigate the heavens in a fantastical flying steam engine. I can thoroughly recommend you play this game or at the very least read my review (and then play this game). Another indie game that I managed to review last month was Ape Out, a Jazz infused top-down smash-em-up that allows you burst your would be captors like they are over-ripe melons. The satisfaction levels are off the chain and it’s well worth a look, especially for blowing off some steam after a hard days work. You can check out my review here.
Astroneer has been a game I’ve been keeping an eye on since it entered early access. Even back in its first public build, it was so visually appealing and is one of those games that just begs to be played. The 1.0 release has now landed and it came with a wealth of new features and gameplay challenges. I adore this game and have so much respect for the team that made it a reality. Around launch week NoClip released a documentary that went behind the scenes and spoke to the developers about the development of the game. I will say, I didn't know that one of the founding members had died unexpectedly in 2016 and this had obviously had a profound effect on the remaining staff. I would like to offer my condolences to the developers and also my immense admiration for managing to carry on through this awful loss. It was also mentioned in the documentary that the team have some big plans for Astroneer and so I cannot wait to see where this epic space odyssey goes next. My review can be found here.
Another release of note last month was Anthem, the troubled looter-shooter from the once-esteemed developer Bioware. Anthem has turned out to be a huge disappointment, both in regard to its technical chops and also the content on offer day one. Even the basic design choices taken have left many wondering, are Bioware even the same company these days? The final nail in the coffin came a few weeks ago when Jason Schreier, of Kotaku fame, released an exposé in which he spoke to many internal sources at Bioware. It turns out that the ‘gameplay demo’ we saw at E3 2017 was of a game that didn't actually exists at that time. There are many other shocking revelations in this excellent article by Jason and it is well worth a read. It is such a tragedy to see a studio we all hold with such high regard go in this direction and many are now concerned for future titles such as Dragon Age 4. You can read my Anthem review here.
The game I have been playing for the last three weeks is The Division 2. As I have set out in my review, I felt bitten by the many issues that plagued the original game but mostly deceived by a bullshit ‘gameplay demo’ (bit of a theme here) and lashings of followup hype. The actual game suffered from a substantial visual downgrade and lacked any meaningful end game, despite the stellar setting. As such, it took a lot of convincing to get me to download the open beta but what I saw won me over enough to take a punt on a review. I am glad I did because the game is fantastic and moreover, actually delivers on the hype this time around. You can read my review here. Finally, my review for Katana Zero is up on the site this week and this is one game I can thoroughly recommend. You step into the shoes of a deadly assassin who can manipulate time with the help of a drug called Chronos. This is an adult game for sure with some pretty graphic concepts, proof that not all pixel art games gave to be cute and cuddly. You can check out my review here.
This blog post was well overdue, hence it’s a bit more chunky than usual. I might spend some time in the next few weeks looking at a dedicated article on the Epic Store and its related issues. My next blog post will be coming far sooner as we are now full steam ahead with the site once more. I hope you all enjoy the reviews we put out and I’ll catch you all next time.